The Rutherford Report: County Prepares for Possible No-Bail System

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“The moral arc of the universe bends at the elbow of justice.”

—Martin Luther King, Jr.
County Prepares for Possible No-Bail System

Like it or not, bail bonds may become a thing of the past here in California.

In response to this potential scenario, the San Bernardino County Probation Department and the Superior Court are diligently working to create a system to evaluate defendants and appropriately monitor those released from custody prior to the resolution of their cases.

This all started with the passage of SB 10 in 2018. The law abolishes bail and replaces it with a system that assesses defendants’ likelihood of showing up for trial and establishes non-monetary conditions for those who are released from custody.

The law’s proponents say the current system unfairly penalizes poor defendants who have no hope of posting bail and getting out of jail before their cases are settled.

Its detractors say defendants who don’t post bail have no incentive to show up for court or attend court-mandated programs such as drunken driving and domestic violence intervention classes.

SB 10 was set to go into effect October 2019, but as you can imagine, the bail bond industry and others weren’t too happy about the idea, so they collected enough signatures to put a referendum on the ballot in November 2020.

If voters reject the referendum, SB 10 goes into effect and counties that haven’t prepared will be scrambling to put pretrial assessment programs in place to comply with the law.

San Bernardino County Probation and the courts have been working on establishing a pretrial assessment pilot program that will comply with SB 10 for about a year.

Here’s how it works:

Probation officers meet with defendants prior to their arraignments and ask them questions about their family support, job status, and other personal information. They also look at defendants’ prior criminal history, including whether they have failed to show up for past court hearings.

They input the information into an automated, computer-based system called the Virginia Pretrial Assessment Instrument (VPRAI) which then gives defendants a risk grade between 0 and 9.

VPRAI risk assessments along with other information gathered by Probation officers are submitted to judges, who make final determinations on whether to release defendants or keep them in custody.

Probation officers monitor defendants who are released to ensure they comply with the conditions of release, such as attending anger management classes or not possessing fire arms, and they can also direct them to services they may need such as job training and placement programs.

The pilot program is expected to go into full swing in October. For now, judges can still require defendants to post bail as a condition of release, but if that changes, San Bernardino County will be practiced and prepared to meet the challenges of a no-bail justice system.
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